In an 85-7 vote, the Senate approved a massive spending bill on Thursday that would set aside $71.6 billion for the U.S. Department of Education in fiscal 2019, sending the measure to the House.
Under the proposal, total education spending would increase by more than $500 million over fiscal 2018 level, Education Week reports, providing increased spending for the Head Start preschool program and boosting federal funding for several elementary and secondary school initiatives — including special education, after-school programs and teacher professional development.
The funding is part of an $857 billion package that also supports the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments.
The bill, which moved through the Senate pretty quickly, was a big win for multiple stakeholders. On a legislative front, the Senate hasn’t been able to pass funding bills for the education, labor, or health and human services departments — other than in an omnibus bill — in more than a decade, The Hill reported. For schools and educators, it’s one step closer to getting much-needed dollars for necessary programs: school districts teaching disadvantaged kids, charter schools, community learning centers and the Office for Civil Rights, just to name a few.
It’s not news that schools and school officials are struggling. They can’t afford basic school supplies or amenities for their classrooms, and, in one case, as much as an entire school day was severed from the weekly schedule as a result. On top of that, districts are facing the weight of another huge and terrifying burden: the possibility that their schools might not be safe, or at least not safe enough. Proposals to buy new security systems, update current equipment, and hire trained guards are being seriously considered, if not already instituted, by schools across the country. Long story short: More funding could not be coming at a better time.
Still, not everyone got what they asked for in the legislation. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration proposed new public and private school choice programs, but didn’t see their suggestions in the bill, Education Week notes. President Trump also wanted to cut education’s overall budget, and he suggested merging the Education and Labor Departments. If either of these ideas had been implemented, students and educators nationwide would feel the hurt from losing more of the already few resources they have. Both were ignored.
Not everything is set in stone, though. There’s still plenty of discretion for how some of the money is spent. On one hand, the Education Department is considering a plan to allow schools to use federal money to arm teachers — which isn’t explicitly prohibited in the bill — and Democrats and other stakeholders aren’t having it. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) proposed an emergency amendment to the bill that would bar using funds for this purpose.
The bottom line: Especially now, when funding is anything but plentiful in schools, the Education Department needs more money, not less. Before jumping the gun and handing out money to outfit teachers with weapons, policymakers must consider that some students and teachers are still without items as basic as pens and pencils. And in some areas, kids don’t have the resources to get to school at all.